When Louis Hanson was growing up, he loved the Spice Girls and riding his pink and silver bike with tassels—but was acutely aware that he wasn’t like other boys in his class.
“At such a young age, you want nothing more than to fit in and be accepted by those around you,” the writer tells SBS. “It was kind of isolating when no one around me shared the same hobbies or interests as I did.”
Reflecting on his experiences as a child formed part of the inspiration for Hanson’s new Be You Collection of picture books, aimed at telling stories that challenge gender stereotypes and teaching the importance of embracing one’s true identity.
“Children deserve to see themselves represented in the media and in storybooks and fairytales,” he says. “They need to know that they aren’t alone.”
The first book in the collection—Ben, The Boy Who Paints His Nails—is about an underdog who feels isolated because he doesn’t like action figures, football or cars.
“It became an ode to the kids who potentially feel as though they don’t belong,” Hanson says of the book. “It’s just a way for me to tell them, ‘You’re perfect the way you are and there’s no need to change that'."
The book was also inspired by an article that Hanson wrote last year about a beautiful exchange with a young boy on a train who asked him about his painted nails.
The writer says that after receiving such positive feedback from teenagers who read the story, he decided that he wanted to “connect to a younger age group that I felt like weren’t being exposed to more diverse stories or experiences.”
After sitting down in his bedroom to write the first story in February this year, he teamed up with his best friend Daisy Squires, who has brought the collection to life with her brightly coloured illustrations.
The pair has been inseparable since they were 12 and had always planned to embark on a creative project together. And they’ve got another childhood friend—Trent Harding—who’s masterminding the publishing and commercial side of things.
The team have just launched a Kickstarter project this week, aimed at raising $10,000 in the next month with plans to release the first books in April next year.
Hanson already has plans for the characters we’ll meet in the upcoming books in the series, including a young girl “who wants to succeed in a masculine, male-dominated environment”.
The writer says he’s aware that in the current climate, while there will be strong supporters of the messages in his books, there will also be some detractors.
“I said this from the start, I just don’t care about the controversy it may create,” Hanson tells SBS.
“I know how pure and beautiful this story is. All I can do is write the book, produce it and share it with people and from then, it’s out of my hands how people construe it or think about it."
When asked what his six-year-old Spice Girl loving self would have to say if he knew that one day he’d be writing Ben, The Boy Who Paints His Nails, Hanson says, "He wouldn’t even think it would be possible".
"It’s almost like one step closer to me resolving things with my childhood self… and I just think this would have been so unbelievably beneficial for him.
“And that’s why I know it’ll be so beneficial for all the other kids out there.
“I just know that my six-year-old self would be so unbelievably proud.”
You can check out the Kickstarter page for the ‘Be You Collection’ here.